Zhu’s nonfiction debut offers a mathematical model for proving the relationship between uncertainty and success—if one accepts the philosophical premises it’s built on.
Mathematics is more than a science; it’s also a language and philosophy, a way of making sense of the world. Zhu stretches that sensibility to its limit, straining to make key tenets of set theory encompass every aspect of probability, including such questions as “What is responsible for uncertainty in our lives?” and “What is Fate?” Taking the time to explicitly define common concepts may seem trite, as when Zhu writes that “success is a set of satisfactory outcomes,” but this sort of formal definition is the key to getting concrete, specific results out of math; in order to do so, one must also have a concrete, specific understanding of every concept one is working with. The mathematical logic behind Zhu’s process tree theory—a means of understanding how minor events contribute to major events and how the success or failure of a single necessary element affects the whole—is flawless. But trouble creeps in when Zhu tries to pair his process-tree theory’s binary nature, which ignores the idea of partial success or failure, with the nuanced, subtle interpretations one needs to make sense of success or failure in the real world. The logic that the author uses to link those tenets makes for a novel study for math and logic students, who may wonder whether advanced mathematics and the real world ever intersect. However, readers without at least a basic understanding of logic and set theory will find themselves adrift in a sea of mathematical logic rendered in everyday language. When all is said and done, it’s not clear whether mathematics can prove that “the future is not fixed, but all future events are predictable with certainty” or that “success needs to aim at doing more than the necessary”—at least, not any better than life itself can.
A work that illuminates some intriguing mathematical and logical relationships but doesn’t remove them from the field of debate.